Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Colleen Clayton, Author of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

I jumped on the chance to read and interview Colleen Clayton both because her book sounded amazing and she graduated from the MFA program that I'm in.  What Happens Next is one of those books that stays with you for a long time.  It's an amazing debut.

From Goodreads:

How can you talk about something you can’t remember?

Before the ski trip, sixteen-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader (at the bottom of the pyramid, but still...), a straight-A student, and a member of a solid trio of best friends. When she ends up on a ski lift next to handsome local college boy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled; but Dax takes everything from Sid—including a lock of her perfect red curls—and she can’t remember any of it.

Back home and unable to relate to her old friends, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey “The Living Stoner” Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey (slacker, baker, total dreamboat), Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if she can just shake the nightmares and those few extra pounds, everything will be perfect... or so she thinks.

First, a pretty standard question....what gave you the idea to write this book? 

I knew that I wanted to write a story about drug-induced date rape because it is a very real thing that happens ALL the time. It's frightening how many women that I've talked to who this has happened to (or it has happened to someone close to them.) The main character kind of came to me fully intact. I couldn't get the image of a red-haired girl sitting on a ski lift with a handsome stranger out of my head. She was a girl that had been waiting her whole life for someone to take a romantic interest in her. Only the person who seemingly does so goes on to use her insecurities and naivete against her in a very bad way. 

What is your writing process like?  Do you outline?  Do you just sit down and let the story tell itself?

I didn't outline WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, the story absolutely told itself. I did outline my current project and, while I strayed quite a bit in the end, I found it surprisingly helpful in many way.

What is your "must haves" while writing?  Is there a certain food?  Drink?  Music?

Usually, I write in my living room with the TV blasting and family members and pets walking in and out, bugging the heck out of me!  I have no rituals or must-haves. (I should get some though!)

What was your favorite part of writing WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The scenes between Corey and Sid were my favorite to write. Writing about love is magical.

Talk a little bit about the title.  I know when it sold, it had a different title. Can you talk about that one, where you came up with it, and how the title morphed into the awesome one it has now?

I'm terrible with titles. I liked my original title (ERASING SID MURPHY) well enough but, as one of the story's themes is eating disorders, ultimately my publisher and I decided it might lead readers to think that this is a single-issue book which it is very much not. There's a lot going on in this novel and eating disorders (or disordered eating) is only one aspect. We went through very long lists of ideas and decided that due to the book's "page-turniness," WHAT HAPPENS NEXT was a great way to go.

Talk about the role of setting and the town of Lakewood, Ohio.  This is an actual town in Ohio and you use many of the well known landmarks.  What inspired you to use this town instead of some fictional town that doesn't really exist?

I adore Lakewood and knew, always, that this story would be set in a fictionalized version of this city. It's a very big suburb of Cleveland and I have spent a lot of time there over the years. It's very diverse and there are so many great places, restaurants, parks, architecture, and it's right on Lake Erie. The people of Lakewood are so, so friendly. I name-drop several places but I also make a good bit up and fudge some locations, names of businesses, etc. I was more interested in capturing the 'spirit' of Lakewood as opposed to getting bogged down in factual minutia. (Hopefully, the folks of Lakewood and the students of LHS won't hate me too much for playing with the facts ...it is fiction after all!)     :)

What traits (if any) of Sid's do you see in yourself?

Stubborn, outspoken, cynical but always hopeful.  I like to think that I am witty like Sid and also can be a fighter when I need to be.

Music is important to this book, especially the music of the Beatles.  Are you a Beatles fan?  If so, what is your favorite Beatles' song?

But of course! My favorite Beatles' song is Blackbird. Or Here Comes The Sun. Or Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds. Agh, don't make me choose!

What about other music?  Are there other songs that would make up the soundtrack to this book or inspired you while you wrote?

I listened to a lot of Fiona Apple while writing WHN. (She's my favorite...) But there is a song that I heard AFTER I was done writing the book and it was already through copyedits that blew me awayyyyy...I heard it and thought: Oh, wow. If my book had an anthem this would be it. It's called Winter Song by Sarah Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson. It's not so much the lyrics (which are fitting) but more the mood and sense of time/place in this song. It matches the book so, so well. 

What parts of your life have trickled into the story?  Have your drawn on any events, relationships or situations that we see played out in WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

I was an unpopular cheerleader, lot of truth going on there. Also, the story that Corey tells Sid about the kittens...every bit of that story is true. Word for word, it happened to me. The vast majority of the novel, however, is made up.

What are some of your favorite YA authors/books?

I adore Alyssa Brugman's writing. FINDING GRACE and WALKING NAKED changed my life. Also, anything by Sara Zarr.

You have a teenage daughter of your own, how does she influence your writing?

My daughter proofreads my stories for authenticity. "Nobody my age would ever SAY that! UGH!"

How do you plan to celebrate your release day?

Not sure yet. It's between a big bash in The Yo (my adopted hometown of Youngstown) with all the movers- and-shakers about town or dinner at The Olive Garden with the fam.

And since you're being interviewed by The Lucky 13s, I have to ask...what's your favorite superstition? 

I don't know that I'm superstitious but I am always on the lookout for "signs." Like, "Oh, it's a sign! God is talking to me again! I must do XYZ now!"  This outlook usually serves me well.

Where can we find you on the Internet?  Do you blog?  Tweet? 

Where can we buy your book?

*This interview was conducted by Lucky 13 member Rachele Alpine, as part of an ongoing series of interviews with the Apocalypsies—YA, MG, and children’s book authors with 2012 debuts.


  1. LOVED the interview, Colleen!! Can't wait to read the book!!

    Thanks for doing this, Rachele!!

  2. Great interview! I'm so excited to pick up a copy of this book!

  3. Sounds like a super and intense read. Wonderful interview.